Press Celebrated with Calls for Freedom

September 24, 2004

AS journalists celebrated the 35thanniversary of the Costa Rican Journalists’Association and 180 years of publicexpression of opinion in the country thisweek, former President and presidentialhopeful Oscar Arias joined them in callingfor the approval of laws allowing greaterpress freedom.During a nationally televised addressMonday night to talk about the governmentcorruption scandal under investigation (seeseparate story), Arias urged speedyapproval of the proposed Press FreedomLaw, and said Costa Rica’s press is “themost effective control that exists againstthe abuse of power.”Journalists’ Association president RaulSilesky said, “The importance of the pressin our country is unquestionable. Thanks toits investigative role, we have discoveredacts of corruption that are extremelypainful for every citizen, but knowledge ofthem is indispensable to cleaning up andprotecting our country.”ON Wednesday, the association presenteda bill to the Legislative Assembly thatrequests the inclusion of other kinds of communicationworkers in the association –those in specialized fields that did not existwhen the original association’s charter wasformed, Silesky told The Tico Times.The bill also “reiterates some aspectsof journalist protection that (the legislators)are considering in the current bills.”Among those, he said, are journalists’ rightto protect the identities of their sources,and the right to conscientiously object toan assignment without risk of punishment.Silesky stressed the importance of theswift approval of modifications to CostaRican press laws, in the works in theassembly for three years. Media directorshave been fighting for improvements in thelaws even before July 7, 2001, when journalistParmenio Medina was assassinated.After Medina’s death, members of theassociation drafted their own version of apress freedom bill modeled primarily onpress laws in the United States and Spain.A bill combining several proposed lawswas submitted to the floor of the Assemblyearlier this year, and pressure to pass it hasincreased after a recent ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.The ruling, announced early August,declared that the government of Costa Ricaviolated two articles of the Inter-AmericanConvention on Human Rights in convictingLa Nación newspaper reporter MauricioHerrera in 1999 on libel and defamation ofcharacter charges (TT, Aug. 6).The ruling of the San José-based courtsaid legislators must pass reforms to thecountry’s press freedom laws in “a reasonableamount of time.”“WE must reiterate, time and timeagain, the urgent necessity to approve themodifications to fortify the freedoms of thepress and expression,” Silesky said thisweek. “Only by that means can the mediaand journalists continue seeking the truth,investigating and making what they findpublic, without fear and without threats.“The policing function of a free press is afundamental factor in how a democratic systemfunctions, where ethical principles mustbe the light for its decisions and actions.“We hope this celebration of the 35thanniversary of the Journalists’ Associationallows us to reflect on professional quality,ethics, freedom of the press, the fightagainst corruption, the strengthening ofmoral values, the participation of themedia and the fundamental role of everycitizen, who, together, are part of this publicopinion that has to actively protect anddefend Costa Rican democracy,” he said.

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